Archives For Kuhn

Many years ago Vernon Grounds had me watch a video series as part of my philosophical learning.  I think it was called “The Existentialists” or something like that.  I remember watching a particular video that discussed the importance of Thomas Kuhn and his understanding of paradigms and paradigm shifts.  I had no idea how frequently this concept would help me understand the what was happening in the world around me over the ensuing years.   Here is a brief synopsis of what Kuhn argued (citation at end of quote):

“He argued that scientific thought is defined by “paradigms,” variously describing these as disciplinary matrixes or exemplars, i.e., conceptual world-views consisting of beliefs, values, and techniques shared by members of a given community, or an element in that constellation: concrete achievements used as models for research.  According to Kuhn, scientists accept a prevailing paradigm in “normal science” and attempt to articulate it by refining its theories and laws, solving various puzzles, and establishing more accurate measurements of constants.  Eventually, however, their efforts may generate anomalies;  these emerge only with difficulty, against a background of expectations provided by the paradigm. The accumulation of anomalies triggers a crisis that is sometimes resolved by a revolution that replaces the old paradigm with a new one.  One need only look to the displacement of Aristotelian physics and geocentric astronomy by Newtonian mechanics and helio-centrism for instances of such paradigm shifts.”  (The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy2nd ed., Robert Audi ed. pp. 479)

 I want to widen his argument here from the focus on science to the bigger picture of how we think.  Everyone one of us approaches the world with a paradigm in place.  Unless you have been introduced to this concept, it is unlikely that you are aware of this.  You go through the day making decisions, choices, value judgements without really thinking about it at all.  You hold certain beliefs to be true and act according to those beliefs without questions.  In fact, it never occurs to you to question.  Much of this is operating “behind the scenes” in your cognitive process without your conscious knowledge at all.  When questions arise, you look for answers that align with the paradigm that you (subconsciously) hold.  It never occurs to you that you should look outside of your paradigm (worldview).  If it does cross your mind, it is likely that you would rather quickly reject the idea.  Your default worldview is “just the way it is.”  It is how you understand the world to actually be.  What does not fit our paradigm/worldview is often cast off as being “wrong.”

But what happens when the anomalies arise?  If it is only occasional, we can often live with a bit of tension in our system.  But what happens if anomalies begin to stack up?  What then?  Kuhn posits that at a certain point a crisis erupts and we are forced to create a new paradigm that accounts for this new understanding of the way things really are.

I find myself in possession of a plethora of anomalies that are triggering an existential crisis of the soul.  My initial spiritual paradigm was built off of a flannel graph board presented in the boiler room of the church basement.  I was a young child taught by well meaning wonderful ladies, but their grasp of deep theological truth was a bit lacking.  I can still vividly picture the flannel graph depiction that showed that dark black cloud of sin that interposed itself between God and me every time I sinned.  And that black cloud of darkness blocked all communication between He and I until it was wiped away by an appropriate confession on my part.

When I became an adult, I walked ran away from God.  I had no use for a flannel graph God and legalistic/fundamentalist Christians.  However, deep within my psyche I retained a desire for the Jesus of the Gospels — he seemed so different than the fundamentalist flannel graph one.  After a few years of futile living, I opened my Bible to try and understand if there really was a God, and what He might really be like — and what really was the deal with that flannel graph God.  I poured over the Amplified Bible version of 1st John until I had a revolution of the soul that brought a new paradigm — one that tore that dark black cloud of sin off of the flannel graph and gave me access to a loving Father who desires for his wayward children to return to Him that he might celebrate their return.

While I left behind my childhood paradigm of a flannel graph God, I find that much of my subconscious thought and understanding is still deeply informed and influenced by a childhood upbringing in fundamentalism and dispensationalism.  And thus I find myself on the brink of a revolution.  And revolutions are scary.   Particularly since our definition of a  paradigm notes that it can be a conceptual world-views consisting of beliefs, values, and techniques shared by members of a given community.   A revolution that leads to a new paradigm may leave us without friends, without community and with an uncertain future.  Hence they are dangerous.  The tension within my paradigm has been too great for too long.  This blog is part of the revolution.  And that is why it is called “The Dangerous Journey.”

What’s your paradigm?  What are your anomalies?  What are your tensions?  Will you undertake a revolution?  Listen to God, follow his heart, live the dangerous journey.